The USC baseball team dropped two out of three games against No. 2 Oregon State this past weekend. Entering the series on Friday with a 24-23 overall record, the Trojans looked to maintain a positive record against, perhaps, the toughest adversary they have faced this season.
Going into the series, the Beavers touted an impressive 40-8-1 record. That record includes a series win over No. 3 Stanford, who handed USC a series sweep with a total score of 34-2. Everything on paper set this three-game matchup to be a rout in favor of the Beavers.
USC’s failure to muster a run in the first game and a rough 7-run loss in game two proved Oregon State’s dominance, but the series was not a blowout.
Game one on Friday night was a battle of starting pitchers. Senior lefty Luke Heimlich commanded the hill for the Beavers, holding a no hit bid until the sixth inning and preventing a Trojans’ score for 8.1 innings before he was relieved. Heimlich earned his 13th win of the season (13-1) and improved his season ERA to 2.69.
On the other side of the diamond, freshman right-hander Kyle Hurt manned the mound. Though he allowed 4 runs, Hurt’s start was not a bad outing. Pitching 7.0 innings, he recorded five strikeouts, walked just two batters and stranded six baserunners. Hurt has struggled with walks in his rookie season, but he located pitches and was able to work out of some sticky situations.
The Men of Troy were unable to recover from the four-run deficit, as they could only put four runners on base — none of which were converted. The final score showed 4-0 in favor of OSU.
Game two clinched a series win for the Beavers. After allowing 2 runs in the top of the first, the Trojans responded with a run of their own. Sophomore left fielder Blake Sabol led off with a single to center field. He would then be driven in on a RBI single from redshirt junior designated hitter Stephen Dubb. Through the remaining eight innings USC was unable to plate another run. Meanwhile, Oregon State had no problem crossing home as it scored 6 more runs to mount a final score of 8-1.
With just 10 hits and 1 run over the first two games, viewers felt as if game three was set to see the same fate. However, a solid pitching and hitting performance led the Trojans to close the series with a notable 8-0 win over their second-ranked opponent.
Junior right-hander Solomon Bates started on the hill. In a 7.0 inning shutout affair, he set up the Trojan lineup for success. Bates allowed just four hits and four walks while recording eight K’s before he was relieved. Sophomore Connor Lunn continued Bates’ solid performance allowing one walk and one hit — neither of which scored. The game marked Oregon State’s first shutout loss since April 30, 2016 against Stanford.
“I’m proud of [Bates] for what he’s accomplished, how much he’s grown as a pitcher over the last year,” heach coach Dan Hubbs said. “This was just another really good outing that he’s given us … He’s been Mr. Consistent.”
The stellar pitching performance allowed the batting order to shine. As a whole, the Men of Troy recorded nine hits and drew four walks. The team’s hitting performance was headlined by Sabol, who exhibited his all-star mentality. In his 5 at-bats, he recorded a single, two home runs and five RBIs. Junior center fielder Lars Nootbaar also drove in two runs.
“I think [winning game three] is a big deal for us, especially getting into next season,” Sabol said to the Pac-12 Network. “We still have a young group of guys and we’ve proven again and again that we can beat anyone anywhere.”
Consistency has been a problem for this young team, especially at the plate. However, when pitching and hitting come together for the Trojans, they are a force to be reckoned with. If USC can find that consistency toward the end of this season or over the off-season, it will be a dangerous ball team in 2019.
The Trojans will now prepare to welcome Cal State Northridge to Dedeaux Field for its final series of the regular season, a matchup that should favor USC.